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Evidence of meeting #43 for Public Accounts in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was going.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Alex Smith  Committee Researcher

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Thank you.

I will be very quick. I have to react when I hear Mr. Hayes' comments. As I see it, accusing the chair of not being impartial is unacceptable in this case. The chair of the committee has been mentioning for some time that he is not comfortable with the way things are being done. So you cannot accuse him now of taking sides and making partisan choices, just because he has given the opposition the floor on a tricky matter.

If he had not opened this debate well in advance and if he had not drawn our attention to the matter, perhaps our thoughts might be different. But the chair has been trying to lead this debate on what would be agreeable for a long time. In my opinion, comments like those made by Mr. Hayes are unacceptable. I am pleased that finally we are having this discussion on the way we should proceed in the future.

That is all I wanted to say.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Merci beaucoup.

Monsieur Kramp, you have the floor, sir.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Thank you, Chair.

I have just a few comments, some of them from the benefit of hindsight.

Like the chair, I've sat in opposition on this committee. I've sat on this committee with minority status and I'm sitting on this committee now in a majority status. One of the problems we have is that we operate without a subcommittee. There are pros and cons with all of that. My preference has been to see a subcommittee work effectively and efficiently. It streamlines our work here and eliminates a lot of the problems that come forward.

The disturbing part of all this—and I say this with all honesty—is that we started off this committee with a subcommittee. Though I may be taken to task for stating this, the opposition filibustered the subcommittee. I couldn't believe it. We were trying to come to decisions, and we had complete blockage and obfuscation at the subcommittee, which rendered the subcommittee useless. It disturbed me a great deal sitting there as a member on the subcommittee, trying to come to some form of agreement.

Mr. Allen recognized my frustration at that point, because we had to move forward. Unfortunately, we were not able to do so. This was not just one occasion. I've never seen this before in Parliament, not being able to move forward at a subcommittee. I don't know if it was a strategy, and I'm not going to suggest it was, or if it was just individuals with a peculiar focus and a set direction. But it's the first time since I've been in Parliament that a subcommittee was rendered useless. I thought it was tragic, and I believed we would feel the implications of it down the road. Well, here we are now.

I support the government on this position. The government did not play a role in it. We did not play a role in blocking that subcommittee. Unfortunately, the opposition did, and it should take responsibility for it.

I was deeply discouraged. Now here we are, going through the same thing that we could have handled effectively at subcommittee. But the purpose was to take any decisions or potential sensitivities or anything where we could find the hair in between and just refuse to do it. They wanted everything to be totally out of camera so they could make more political points. Once that happens, then you really start to lose trust in being able to work together. That is where this all started, and I say that with all honesty.

Maybe I'll respond to Mr. McKay's assertion. I respect Mr. McKay as a member in good standing, of long standing, a member with a solid reputation here on the Hill. However, Mr. McKay was probably not aware of how the priority of the F-35 study was progressing.

There were six chapters. If the government had wished to use the weight of its majority, it would not have had to study the F-35 first. We could have moved the priority. We could be talking about the F-35 six months from now instead of today. But it was a government initiative, and we recognized some realities and some government concerns. So we decided to make this a priority. We agreed and made the motion to advance the study and make it a priority. That was done in good faith.

There might have been some people even within the government, at different levels, who might not have appreciated that. But the committee made that deliberation fairly and honestly, knowing that the opposition was not going to object to the study. It was a clear statement of fact. There was certainly no obfuscation on behalf of the government in moving forward on the F-35s. We have more than cooperated in advancing this as a priority.

We moved out of camera last time. As Mr. Allen has said, we expected to be in camera on this. Quite frankly, so did I. My personal preference was to be in camera, simply to maintain the consistency of our process. But then a number of people said no, let's make an exception to demonstrate good faith. Quite frankly, some people could misconstrue that as an opportunity to play to the media.

Let's just deal in good faith. Let's move forward. Let's see how it works. Can we effectively do this? Of course, what happened right off the bat? There was complete politicization of the process. Complete. We saw what happened at this committee. I don't have to remind my colleagues of what took place at this committee and how we became effectively neutered through the entire meeting. We simply, once again, had another filibuster, and away we went again. We just were not effective.

It didn't work, unfortunately. I wish it had worked.

If Mr. Ravignat and I have a difference of opinion, by golly, let's have it, with no ifs, ands, or buts about it. We move forward. We have some different thoughts. We bring motions. I would love to get back to that. But right now, we've moved this committee, regretfully, into a procedural process rather than an investigation-of-facts process. It's to the detriment of Canada and to the detriment, I think, of the parties involved at the committee level.

I'm disappointed. I don't know how we're going to get over this, Chair, I really don't, because the genie's out of the bottle on this. Everybody wants to move forward on this for their own political purposes. The opposition simply wants to grab hold of this chain and keep yanking it until there's no more life left in the chain. I understand that. The government, obviously, will at some point want to say fine, we have other business, so let's move on. I think we all recognize those realities.

I'm just suggesting to my colleagues that as we move forward, we all take a little deeper breath on an issue like this. And when the floor is given, hopefully there will be a clear indication of why. If it's to go in camera, obviously, there's a reason for that. But I would hope that once we are in camera, the discussion as to why could maybe take place. If at some particular point either the government or the opposition has a great deal of difficulty with that, then let's see if we can talk our way through it and get it resolved.

Chair, I would deeply love to have this committee get back on track. I really would. I have worked on this committee for eight years.

It's certainly no reflection on the chair. As I mentioned, I believe that your decision on this was wrong, but that's fine. That's just a difference of opinion, and we're entitled to that. If I didn't say that, I wouldn't be honest with the chair.

I would hope that we would move forward. I'm not going to belabour the point now. Denying the government an opportunity, in the chair's description of fairness, I think, quite frankly, isn't fair. It isn't fair, as I said in my comment earlier, to say to the government that because you have the majority, we'll listen to the opposition and let them talk, and if they want to make a motion, it's the same thing; we know you want to go in camera, supposedly, so by the time it comes to you, we're just going to hold you off.

It really makes things a challenge for the effective operation of this committee.

I will make a last point, Chair. I don't know what the precedent is for this. The chair might be totally right in his statement. I don't know. Right off the bat, the chair said that when you have the floor, there will be no motions. Is that the way it works? Does the chair have that latitude and luxury to say that if I have the floor now, I'm prohibited from making a motion? I've never heard of that before. If it is within the rights of the chair to dictate that, if the chair did that simply to try to move this meeting forward and have a pre-meeting before the meeting so that it wouldn't complicate this situation, fine. I can appreciate that. My concern, of course, is what kind of precedent that sets. Is it a process we follow, or is this an exception to the rule to sort of speed up our process?

I don't know. If the chair could at some point—maybe not now, because he might not have the answer—provide some clarification on that.... And it doesn't have to be publicly; it can be privately. It's not my role to try to put anybody on the spot here or make things difficult for someone, but I think we do have to have some clear rules moving forward, and I would certainly appreciate some clarification at an appropriate time on that.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Thank you very much, Mr. Kramp.

Let me just say that as the first vice-chair of the committee, Mr. Kramp, you've always been right up front. You play hardball politics; that's why you've been returned so many times. But there's no question about your fairness and your integrity. I take what you say seriously, and I appreciate the thought you put into your comments, as tough as they are.

We'll move along now.

Oh, by the way, if I can, you were right on the second observation. I was trying to find something other than just boom, boom, boom. Canadians aren't comfortable with that, especially with this committee. If they get a sense that somebody's just driving things, dictating, whether they think it's me or the government or anybody.... That's what I'm trying to avoid here; you're absolutely right.

I was taking a little bit of licence with the chair, but if somebody had called me on a point of order and said I couldn't give the floor to somebody and deny them the right to make a motion, then I would have had to make a ruling, and I probably would have had to say they're right and I wouldn't do that. But I do have the right to put a suggestion out there, and if no one does complain, then by inference there has been unanimous agreement to do that, and we move along. Again, I was doing it as an interim step prior to that impossible situation where everybody wants the floor at once but not everyone can get it.

Let me offer again--especially based on the positive aspects, Mr. Kramp, of what you were saying--to representatives of each of the caucuses that I will gladly convene publicly or privately a meeting to kick around some ideas so that we can have a solution. I agree, the solution we have now doesn't work very well. But you will recall, I said from the beginning that it didn't work, and that no matter how I ruled and how I approached it, someone was going to be upset, and that was a given.

I'd much rather be enforcing rules everybody has agreed to. It makes my job a whole lot easier. It's when we get into this uncertain area.... And yes, some of it is the lack of a steering committee. I won't get into the politics of why and what happened, but the absence of an effective steering committee does hurt the work of this committee. In the past, when we had that committee and it was functioning the way it should, we did work better. That doesn't mean we still didn't have our moments, but for the most part it worked a lot more efficiently. We don't have that. That's a fact. So that's partly also why we're sort of lurching around here without as clear a focus as I think everyone would like.

Madame Bateman, first-time speaker.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to comment on some points that my colleagues on both sides of the table have raised.

First, Ms. Blanchette-Lamothe used the word “accuse” to describe Mr. Hayes' comments. I feel that the word is a little strong. Personally, I heard a comment on the process, but I heard no accusation. We have heard a full commentary. I congratulate you, Mr. Chair. I also heard Mr. Hayes compliment you on your work. So we have to find some balance. We also have to choose our words a little more carefully.

Second, Mr. Chair, I heard you say that you were concerned by the small third party and its ability to speak here. As you know, Mr. Chair, I am very proud to be here and I am very serious about the work we do for all Canadians. The third party has used time at this committee. Perhaps you could check whether the time the third party has used here constitutes a form of obstruction. There is certainly a lot of time wasting, if not actual filibustering. That is also part of your responsibilities in terms of the process that our committee follows.

Thank you.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Thank you, Ms. Bateman.

Your input is always put so politely, and I appreciate that. Thank you.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

We will go ahead, unless there are other first-time speakers, although I think everybody who wants the floor has had a go-around.

Very well, I'll go to second-time speakers. Mr. Saxton.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I appreciate that you've given just about everybody a chance to speak this morning for the first time to give their opinions on where we're at and where we're going. I'm not sure if we yet know where we're at or where we're going, but at least we know you've given everybody a chance to ventilate. I certainly would like to know where we're going and where we're at.

You made a suggestion that because your ruling was unfair in a lot of people's eyes, about relegating the government to third status on this committee when it comes to pecking order of who gets to speak first—I think even you would recognize that's not fair—you want to resolve this in another forum and another session, privately or publicly, whatever makes sense. Where are we going with that? Are we going to come to a conclusion?

Right now we're in a situation where, in this meeting and the previous meeting, you have taken it upon yourself to unilaterally make a decision that the government would be relegated to third status when it comes to pecking order. This is the second time you've done that. I do recall, last time you did that, you said something to the effect that this time you were doing it but there was a chance that next time you'd allow the government to go first, since you were allowing the opposition to go first this time. I think you might have even brought in the option of alternating back and forth last time. I do understand your dilemma about which opposition party goes first, because then if it goes opposition, government, then the third party wouldn't have its chance. Another option to that would be to alternate amongst the opposition parties and then government goes second.

So there are lots of possible permutations as to how we could resolve this as a committee. We have to resolve it, because the current situation is unacceptable. It's unacceptable to the government. You have even said you recognize it's not necessarily fair, as it stands, to do this every time. You did it once, last time, recognizing it wasn't really fair. As my colleague brought up, you recognized the third party even though it didn't even attempt to be recognized. I think that is also kind of a strange and bizarre thing for a chair to do, to recognize a party even though it didn't even attempt to be recognized.

Nevertheless, we've got a problem, and it has to be solved. The current status quo, which you created, is not acceptable, so let's find a solution. Let's set up another meeting so we can discuss this and come to a resolution. As it stands right now, we're sort of in never-never land, and we can't stay in never-never land forever.

10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Thank you. I agree--although some would argue that we do.

Let me just say, for the record, that I did ask that question, and I believe it is in Hansard that Mr. Byrne said he put up his hand, because I was checking that. I think that's in the Hansard, because I was careful about that.

However, I accept the fact that the government does not believe the current ruling is fair--just as, if I'd gone any other way, the opposition members would be saying it's not fair. On balance, I'm comfortable that I made the right decision in the absence of any kind of agreement, given the fact that the opposition can only give voice when it has the floor; it can move a motion, but it can't carry one. But I can appreciate that the government sees that as totally unfair: you have the most seats and you're getting third place in the pecking order--how can that be fair?

10 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

It was twice in a row.

10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

It was twice in a row, and probably a third, fourth, and fifth time if we don't find a resolution. I think it's equally unfair for the government to get the floor as soon as the gavel's dropped, move in camera, and the cone of silence comes over everything, automatically, every time, ten times out of ten. I don't think that's fair either.

I will take it a step further. I will invite representatives of each of the caucuses to meet with me on an informal basis to see if we can't come up with something. Maybe it will be as simple as rotation, and who gets the floor will just be the luck of the draw in terms of the politics that day. But we can avoid this.

What we need is an agreement, colleagues. An easy Solomon solution is not available. The best we're going to get is an agreement we can all live with. That's what we should be shooting for. I will convene a meeting with the purpose of trying to achieve a recommendation we can all live with. I guarantee you it won't be fair, but by virtue of everybody buying into it, it will be deemed to be fair. Then we can avoid what has been well over an hour now on procedure.

To get us going in a positive mode, does everybody agree with my intent to call a meeting, pull everybody together, and see if there's a solution? Is there agreement on that?

10 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

No.

10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Okay.

Mr. Kramp.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Chair, the longer we procrastinate, the longer we delay, the longer we don't have a process, the longer we're going to take to resolve this.

Why don't we do it now and get it over with?

10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Sure.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Let's have this done and we can get on to our meeting. Whatever decisions are reached, right, wrong, or indifferent, we're going to have to live with them. We have had a number of suggestions. You've made a suggestion. Obviously the opposition members have made suggestions. Mr. Saxton made a couple of different suggestions.

Can we come to some kind of working agreement here that's going to be fair?

10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

If you'll allow me to continue to give people the floor and they don't move motions, we can do that. If we're going to get into motions, I can tell you we're going to be bogged down for the balance of this meeting. That was the reason for the informal meeting, to kick it around.

If the committee is willing to enter into a give-and-take discussion with the sole purpose not of scoring points or moving motions but of finding something we can all agree to, then that would be wonderful. I'd love to have that done. If you want to do it now, I'm in your hands. Mr. Kramp has suggested we do it now.

What's the will of the committee?

Let me go to Mr. McKay and then Mr. Saxton.

10 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I certainly appreciate the expressions of concern for the fate of the Liberal Party. It's quite heartening to hear.

10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

I did say the third party, but your point is taken.

10 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Yes.

As far as I know, the third party is the Liberal Party, and the Liberal Party is the third party.

10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Yes.

10 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Generally speaking, one refers to the party by its name rather than by its status.

10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

It just hurt to hear you say it that way. Your point is taken. I'll shut up.

You have the floor.

May 8th, 2012 / 10 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

I just wanted to point that out, but I do appreciate the expression of concern.

I also want to pick up on the comment that the government is omnipotent at this committee. I don't dispute that. We certainly know that if Mr. Saxton has his way, Mr. Byrne's motion will never see the light of day.

The government may be omnipotent, but it's not omniscient, and that is the point of this committee. The point of this committee is to review government decisions.

While Mr. Kramp argues that there are actually six things they could be doing, including border controls, interest-bearing debt, etc., it's clear that the F-35 issue is the first among equals, or way beyond the first among equals.

Just to give listeners and viewers some scale, this decision is in the order of magnitude of replacing the entire subway system in Toronto. That's what we've been arguing about in Toronto—updating and replacing the entire subway system. That's the order of magnitude of the F-35 costing.

I'm quite open to alternate processes, etc. But from the viewpoint of the Liberal Party, to say that Mr. Byrne's motion will be automatically dead in the water if we adopt an alternate process is just a non-starter. I'm certainly open to see how that would happen.

I also need to point out that what goes around comes around. I've been on that side as well. In fact, I think I've occupied every position all the way around this table over the course of being here for 14 years. I remember when we were in government and Minister Martin used to say to me that he wasn't actually afraid of what the opposition's questions might be when he came before the finance committee. He kind of reasonably anticipated them. He worried about the government members' questions, for a whole variety of reasons.

Normally I sit on the defence committee, and when David Pratt was the chair of that committee he issued a report—this was when the Liberals were in the majority—that was highly critical of the government. Many of those recommendations were ultimately adopted by the government and have been subsequently carried on by this government.

You don't get the impression here that the government members are actually prepared to be critical, particularly in this F-35 debate. Hence there is reluctance by the Liberal Party in particular—but I dare say the NDP as well—to allow Mr. Byrne's motion and possibly others to go in camera. As you rightly say, the cone of silence will descend and Mr. Byrne's motion will never see the light of day.

Discussions on the cost analysis of the F-18, the phasing out of the F-18s, replacement of the F-18s, or infrastructure modifications of the F-35s—all of that stuff will not likely ever see the light of day, nor will the witness list that Mr. Byrne has proposed.

I'm quite interested in the wisdom of Solomon. I don't always see it here. I'm quite prepared to entertain any kind of process that allows Mr. Byrne's motion to survive and be fairly debated. I have no observations on the functioning of the committee—I haven't actually been here to see whether the committee, either in public or in camera, is functional or dysfunctional—other than the generalized observation that a subcommittee is always preferable to a debate among 12 people as to what the agenda should be.

So if you can point us, Chair, to a means by which Mr. Byrne's motion survives intact and gets a fair and full hearing, then I'm all ears.